Bowen honour for the Doyen
With his back arched, Reverend Ojo sits transfixed for a few seconds, almost watching the narrative footage of his calling in his mind eye.
Lowering his voice to tiny whispers, he tells his guest, “it is something I cannot express. I thank God and I feel honoured that at my age, people will still think that I deserve such an award and I’m very grateful to everybody that has contributed in one way or the other for this.”
He adds, “just two other persons had been privileged to be so honoured with this award by the school. They are Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Mr. Gamaliel Onosode.”
The award is in recognition of the octogenarian’s immense services to humanity, the Nigerian nation, and invaluable contribution to the progress of the Nigerian Baptist Convention in particular and Christendom in general.
He was part of the initial efforts in the 1960s to raise funds for the take off of the university. He was at Jos then. Between June and December 1961, he was on the road, travelling all over Nigeria and Ghana; Ghana was part of the Nigerian Baptist Convention then. His task was to raise funds in all the churches for the 10 percent contribution of the Nigerian Baptist Convention for the university’s take off. The 90 percent was to be provided by the global church.
He stands up from his chair, feeling his shoe sink deep into the rugs, he enthuses, “I’ve always believed in doing the Lord’s will. Whatever opportunity that came, I will take it.”
One sure way to know a happy man is to look below his eyes, and perhaps, count the number of lines there. Each line, like Unoka’s on the wall in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, represents the weight of his challenges. And what greater gift can a man have than young looks. Even at old age.
Wearing a smile, which glistens, he breathes heavily, “it is the Lord Himself that made it possible to serve Him. I’m happy when I serve the Lord, and considering what he has done in my life and that of other people, I can’t but serve him.”
He says, at a young age, he was determined to excel. He wanted to be educated, but he didn’t start school early. With a limitless supply of grit and drive, he has ensured that his dreams did not evaporate. “My father actually was responsible for my late going to school. Every year he had one excuse or the other not to allow me start school. I actually started school at age 11. He normally said he needed somebody to keep his company and to send on errand,” he says.
Ojo attended a primary school in his hometown of Igbara Oke, Ondo State. He passes out in 1941. “There were three of us who did extremely well in the final exams and we were immediately given employment as teachers. I was posted to Ogotun Ekiti. I served there for two years after which I was transferred back to my town for another one year.”
He secured admission to Baptist Boys High School (BBHS), Abeokuta for his secondary education, after failing to gain admission to St Andrews College, Oyo because it is an Anglican school and preference was given to students with Anglican parentage. “Somebody mentioned it to me that BBHS could admit me on merit and I wrote the examination, I passed and was offered admission,” he says.
Unfortunately, he had to stop in the fourth form because his parents couldn’t sponsor his education further. He had earlier sold his bicycle to see the young WRO through primary education.
“At that time, there were only three people who had bicycles in my hometown,” he says, sensitively. But God was really kind to WRO, because the principal of the school then, having seen his predicament, decided to help, by giving him employment me as the school’s first paid librarian.
“Each time my classmates, who by then had graduated to class five, came to the library, I usually asked for their lesson notes, which I read and digested so well. This coupled with the opportunity of access to countless books in the library, at a point I felt I was sufficiently prepared to sit for the high school exam. I then decided to register as a private candidate for the London Matric Exam at the Abeokuta Grammar School, where Kuti, father of Fela, was the principal. I passed the exam, but didn’t have a good grade in English Language, so, I had to resit the subject the following year and I was very excited,” he laughs.
When he laughs, papa comes out free and young. He notes, eyes hardening and voice inflecting a more serious tone. “After my exams, I was still working in Abeokuta, but later somebody told me that there were opportunities for better remuneration in Lagos. That was how I came to Lagos and was employed in the Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN). I was in the meter-reading department and it came to a time that I felt the job was not tasking and challenging enough. Later, I moved to Railway at Ebute Metta. I was leaving at Surulere at this time.
He enthuses, “I was leaving some houses away from a Baptist Church at Surulere. Because of my background with the Baptist Church all along, it was easy for me to be integrated to the church at Surulere. With my background and experience, it was easy for the Reverend in the church to unearth my potential. I was involved deeply in almost all the aspects of the church, especially Sunday school. Anytime, the Reverend wasn’t around, he was always handing the affairs of the church to me. I got so engrossed with this service in the church that it was just a matter of time when I would become a full time minister. I eventually spent for years at Baptist Seminary, Ogbomoso. After which I began my journey of priesthood that took me all around the country.”
WRO, as he is fondly called, served the Baptist Mission in Nigeria full- time for close to 40 years, during which time he represented the Convention at various forums around the world.
He was also the Principal Fund Raising Promoter appointed by the Convention to raise funds for the establishment of the Baptist University – a special assignment that took him to every nook and cranny of Nigeria and Ghana in the 1960s. The result of this assignment is the Bowen University, Iwo.
His most memorable experience?
He stands up gently from his chair, feeling his shoe sink deep into the rug, he enthuses, “the day I got married and left home that very day for my first mission in the church in Igede, Ekiti State.”
His advice for young couples?
While nodding his head and gurgling with satisfaction, he sighs, “life is not a bed of roses. The things of the Lord always keep us, so, we should expect the rough and hard times. God will never leave us in that time of difficulty; He will surely come to our rescue. Under every circumstance, we have to love ourselves. Always put God first, your family second and third others. This is the motto I have used. Under every circumstance, I put God first.”
What would you predict as Rev. Ojo’s routine after retirement?
And this seems to have dotted the lines of every page of her life, which she script-edited at age 12: Humane personality. “Retirement doesn’t mean that is the end of things. When you retire, you retire into something. You still want to do something at your own convenience and as the Lord has allowed you. Retirement is sometimes a change of life, you can’t stay put.
At retirement, he was made a Commissioner in the Ondo State Civil Service Commission in Akure in 1987, where he served meritoriously till 1991.
WRO is a motivator, achiever and an author of many books known for his diligence, sense of responsibility, integrity, transparency and achievements.